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Inquiry Reports

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Day 24 – Destination Kirkby - Big box Retail with a Sea of Car Parking


Retail expert, Keith Nutter was today's witness for the Combined Authority Objectors (CAOs), he began by stating that in a planning application, it is not down the applicant to indicate need. He said that is the responsibility of the Local Authority and in this case it should be the job of Knowsley Council.

It was stated that should the proposed development go ahead, Kirkby will leapfrog St. Helens and Birkenhead in the retail hierarchy moving from 12th to 5th place. In comparison, Skelmersdale will move from 13th to 7th place should the St Modwens proposals be complete. He stated that there is a greater need to enhance to roles of Birkenhead (Wirral) and Bootle (Sefton) over Kirkby.

It was confirmed that the Tesco store is out of centre as the distance between the existing town centre and the proposed Tesco's front entrance are more than 300 meters apart.

It was stated that some elements of the retail area are edge of centre. Mr Nutter stated that a 9,000sq metres store would meet the needs of the community. He also stated there is no policy which supports moving Kirkby above Prescot or Huyton in the retail hierarchy. It was deemed that Prescot would be the more obvious choice for a retail centre in Knowsley as it is more central and has a larger population. It was suggested that the Destination Kirkby development is not sustainable as it encourages car use.

Patrick Clarkson began his cross examination of Mr Nutter, he asked if the CAO councils accepted the fact that there was deprivation in Kirkby that would be addressed by these proposals. Mr Clarkson suggested that jobs and the increased economic activity would be advantageous.

Mr Nutter replied that it needed to be weighed against losses in surrounding areas as a consequence of the development.

Mr Clarkson queried whether the CAO councils had taken a stance on the relocation of Everton Football Club, Mr Nutter confirmed that they had not.

Mr Clarkson then suggested that the neighbouring councils were aware that Kirkby has problems and they wanted to keep it that way because it suited them. He went to great lengths to explain that should this development be rejected then Knowsley Council would have to find another project to redevelop the town centre.

His suggestions were met with Mr Nutter's response that the scale of the project was the problem and it is in total conflict with the Unitary Development Plan and its impact on established centres.

Mr Nutter informed the inquiry that Skelmersdale was being regenerated through the development plan process, it was not 'opportunity driven'.

He went on to say that Kirkby would jump from 612th to 201st, 411 places up the retail hierarchy, Mr Clarkson replied that it would be wonderful for Kirkby.

Nutter responded that it wouldn't be for the other centres affected by the development.

He also stated that there was no linkage between Prescot Town Centre and Cables retail park, previously in the inquiry they had been linked together and both were deemed as Prescot.

It was suggested that there could be another foodstore in Kirkby and that competition can be a good thing.

When asked, Mr Nutter did say that he didn't see Liverpool One being affected very much by this development.

Mr Clarkson asked why Skelmersdale was being allowed to develop, contrary to policy, while Kirkby was being kept under water. Nutter replied that Skelmersdale was developing in line with policy, unlike Kirkby.

It was put to Mr Nutter that people from Rainhill would come to Kirkby. He replied that if you built a development the size of the Trafford Centre in Kirkby, people from Southport would come. The bigger the development, the bigger the catchment. He stated that this proposal was 'a classic retail park design'.

He continued by saying that Warrington and Wigan have both taken trade from St. Helen's, this is acceptable as they are sub-regional centres and St. Helens shouldn't have to compete with Kirkby as well.

It was now time for Knowsley Council's counsel Mr Barrettt to cross examine. He began by saying that he had not seen any masterplan designs from developers St. Modwens for the new Skelmersdale development.

Nutter stated that there will be a shift in retail areas. It was deemed Skelmersdale will be the main centre and smaller towns like Ormskirk and Burscough will remain as market towns.

He reiterated that Kirkby is not a priority centre. Mr Nutter said that the Kirkby proposal does not promote sustainable transport as it is clearly a low density retail park, it is big box retailing with a sea of car parking, a bad design. He commented that other new developments have 'streetscapes'.

Barrett asked if development of inappropriate scale was allowed in named centres, to which Nutter replied that it is a control point. Listed centres don't need to demonstrate appropriate scale and that all centres cannot be given the same weight.

The inspector Wendy Burden. asked why Skelmersdale was named in RDF1 (regional development framework) and why Kirkby wasn't.

Nutter replied that that was how Skelmersdale. has developed in the RSS over time. Historically, Skelmersdale has always been a a regeneration priority.

Nutter stated that he thought a foodstore in Kirkby of 9,000 sq metre was capable of competing with the Asda in Aintree (6,670sq.m, 10,000 with mezzanine). At this time Kirkby's development plan is to maintain its current status.

When Barrett asked what the CAOs thought was an acceptable level of development, Nutter replied that they were not there to promote the applicant's case.

Barrett stated that Kirkby needed a transformational change to attract retailers (such as Marks and Spencer), Nutter agreed but not in the region of 50,000sq m.

In closing, the CAO's QC Mr Lancaster reminded the Inspector that Tesco were promoting the same need for critical mass now, at 50,000sqm as they were when they were promoting the earlier scheme of 70,000sq m.

Skelmersdale was to be 33,000sq m with a predicted turnover of £128million per annum, Kirkby is predicted to have a turnover of £249million per annum. Skelmersdale would draw an extra 14%, (about £8M) from outside it's current catchment, in comparison; Kirkby would be drawing 68% (about £144m).

Mr Lancaster also explained that whereas Skelmersdale had an ambitious home retention rate, Kirkby's inflow of expenditure would be arriving by car.

Wendy Burden asked about the public transport links between Skelmersdale and Liverpool. Mr Nutter informed that most people go to Wigan because it is more accessible.

She also asked for planning updates from St. Helens to which Mr Nutter responded that St. Helens is waiting for S106 to be signed with Tesco but was a stumbling block (ancient monument).

Chalon Way was also waiting for outline approval subject to the S106 with Tesco and Svenhill, who are Tesco's development arm.

Mr Megson (Strategic Planning Officer) Lancashire County Council informed the inquiry that the Tesco proposal is to build on a site, of which 90% is greenfield. The North site, if developed, is 100% brownfield. He said that this should be given priority in terms of the sequential test.

He also said that no weight should be given to the Interim Policy Statement as it devolves land and there were 13,000 objections to it.

Mr Megson also said little weight should be given to the planning application because enabling is required and that argument is not being used any more.

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